By Steve & Tamami Laser and Nahoko Osuka reporting from Maui, Hawaii
When we planned our vacation to Maui, one thing we wanted to experience, beyond the spectacular beaches and towering dormant volcanoes, was the Highway to Hana. As the story goes, this legendary 50-mile-long stretch (Highway 36) has 620 curves, 59 bridges (most are one-lane) and some of the most beautiful scenery on earth.
In preparation for the trip, we filled up the gas tank in our Cadillac SRX test car, packed extra water and snacks, and headed out early in the morning from our hotel to allow enough time to return before dark. Locals told us to allow two hours for the journey each way, or even longer when making additional stops.
Paia Town and Haiku
We began our journey in the historic town of Paia. Originally a Hawaiian plantation village, today Paia is filled with boutiques, restaurants, and real estate offices.
Paia also serves as a hub for sports activities including windsurfing, biking, hiking and fishing. Ho’okipa Beach is a mecca for surfers offering some of the island’s tallest waves.
The road beyond Paia quickly turns into countryside where we spotted green fields with grazing cattle. We stopped at a roadside fruit stand in Haiku. Santos Family Farms offers a wide selection of locally picked papaya, pineapple, dragon fruit and more.
We sampled some of the selections and found them all so delicious that it was tough to decide. We ordered the dragon fruit and finished it before heading back to the highway.
Since we rarely get to taste these delicacies freshly picked from the field, we stocked up on papayas, pineapple slices and a huge avocado to enjoy the next day.
Back on the road, we saw a sign for the “Garden of Eden Arboretum” and decided to visit. This beautiful botanical garden is filled with exotic birds, trees, flowers and foliage in what is billed as a “uniquely natural island setting.” We paused for a moment and had a close encounter with a friendly peacock.
The price of admission is money well spent. Twenty-six acres are divided into areas that include “The Enchanted Forrest,” “Banana Patch,” “Tree Farm” and “Duck Pond.”
Situated on a hillside, there’s plenty of sightseeing opportunities including vistas of the ocean and streams with waterfalls.
Long and Winding Road
Back on the highway, we wound our way through countless turns, bridges and switchbacks. We took turns driving to help avoid highway hypnosis because once you finish a stretch, it repeats itself over and over again.
We often had to wait patiently at one side of a one-lane bridge for a car or truck to pass. Whenever we felt fatigue setting in, we pulled over where it was safe and marveled at the amazing scenery above and below.
There’s no need to look at a map to know when you’ve reached the halfway point. Just keep an eye out for this roadside stand called “Halfway to Hana.” It’s a great place to get out of the car and stretch. And if you’re hungry, they have snacks and a tasty pulled pork BBQ sandwich.
If you like waterfalls (who doesn’t?), you’ll be in awe at some of the most beautiful roadside vistas imaginable. Our drive occurred on a rainy day, so the volume of water was pretty intense on this towering roadside beauty.
Aloha Hana Town
We finally arrived at Hana about three hours from the start of our journey. Billed as one of the most isolated communities in Hawaii (we believe it!) with a population of only a little over 1,000, Hana is largely unspoiled by civilization.
There’s a small “business district” with curio shops, galleries and the Hasegawa General Store that’s been in business for more than 100 years. While the original store was destroyed by fire, its replacement looks decades old.
Inside you’ll find just about anything imaginable from food and supplies, to maps and batteries, to hardware and farm tools. Since the next city is far away and the highway can be closed by mudslides, this store and another market a block away are vital to locals and tourists alike.
Those who want to take time out and relax in comfort should stop at the splendid Travaasa Hotel. Located above Kaihalulu Bay, this resort is a five-star experience with fine dining, galleries, a spa and sports activities.
We had a delicious lunch in a beautiful dining room surrounded by glass that offered vistas of the immaculate grounds and ocean below.
If you’re looking for a place to get away from it all yet still be surrounded by first-class amenities and an attentive staff, this is the place to go.
Charles Lindbergh’s Resting Place
With a tropical storm off the coast, we were thinking of heading back, yet a visit to this remote area isn’t complete without paying respects to one of America’s greatest aviators.
Located about ten miles past Hana on another stretch of narrow, desolate, isolated road is the tiny town of Kipahulu. At the end of a quiet country lane is the Palapala Ho’omau Church.
One of the residents in a tiny cemetery next to the church is Charles Lindbergh, the man who flew the “Spirit of St. Louis” from New York to Paris in 1927, becoming the first person to make the journey non-stop by air.
As the rain began to fall, we walked to a small park next door and took in the beautiful view of the rugged coastline below before making our long journey back to civilization.
We spent a full day driving from Paia to Hana and back enjoying the sights along the way. We’re filled with happy memories that we’ll treasure for a lifetime.
Our Cadillac SRX was the perfect companion for this trip. It offers a smooth and luxurious ride, first-class accommodations with supportive leather-trimmed seats, a great audio system and ample road clearance to traverse fallen debris. While one could select any car for this journey, we enjoyed driving the long and twisty road in the comfort of this Cadillac.
Story, photos and video ©2014 CarNichiWa